Violent extremism and terrorism is a growing threat for stability, peace and security in West Africa, especially in the already vulnerable Sahel region. Exclusion, poverty, climate change, ethnic division and bad governance only exacerbate the threath.
The phenomenon of violent extremism and terrorism has continuously expanded in West Africa for more than a dozen years.
The international community's approach is mainly focused on a military response, which risks aggravating the crisis. Furthermore, development efforts have traditionally centred on the main economic centres, leaving rural areas and the outskirts of major cities aside, making them vulnerable to the control of terrorist organizations.
A recent report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) estimates that violent extremism in Africa has caused 33,300 fatalities across the continent between 2011 -2016 only. This has provoked major displacements and considerable humanitarian needs.
In march 2017, the tension in the Sahel region reached a new level with the announcement that several terrorist organizations joined forces through the creation of Jama’at Nasr Al-Islam Wal Muslimin (“Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims”) by merging several Mali-based Al Qaeda groups: Ansar Dine, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Al Murabitoon, and Katiba Macina (also known as the Macina Liberation Front).
The group has already carried out a number of attacks in Mali, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast. Considering the easiness to acquire assault rifles in West Africa, the high recruitment capabilities of these groups, the weakness of States' defence and security apparatuses, the collusion of these terrorist groups with organised crime groups, drugs traffickers, and local authorities, as well as the control of natural resources, new attacks are dreaded to continue to take place in the region.